‘You must be out of your mind!’ That was the verdict given with varying degrees of added colour when I told my nearest and dearest of my plan to christen the newly completed chain of paths from King’s Lynn to Norfolk by walking the 97 miles in one unbroken session and in less than 30 hours. But the moment that the map was published showing the Wensum Way linking the Nar Valley Way to Marriott’s Way and onwards to the Wherryman’s Way the challenge was irresistible.
The first to benefit from the plan was my labradoodle Poppy whose weekly long walk was extended to over thirty miles as I started my training. The second beneficiary was the Royal Agricultural Benevolent Institution. There is nothing better to stiffen the resolve when the going gets tough than a whole lot of sponsorship linked to completing the task.
Even before the opening of the Wensum Way, Norfolk had several formidable walking challenges. The 37 miles of the Wherryman’s Way becomes a circular journey with the use of the train between Great Yarmouth and Norwich. The Peddars Way is a stiffer proposition but can also be done in a day with sufficient determination to resist the temptation of lingering in the Ostrich in Castle acre and the Gin Trap in Ringstead.
I started the walk in King’s Lynn leaving at 7.00 on the Friday morning. The time was chosen for me to have daylight as far as Lenwade as the Marriott’s Way section would be the most straightforward to navigate in the dark. It all started so well. I covered 4and a half miles in the first hour. While still within sight of King’s Lynn I had seen an otter and kingfishers. Then the heavens opened. For three hours I was comprehensively drenched from every angle. I turned to my radio for comfort and tuned into ‘When you walk through a storm hold your head up high.’ Easy enough to say in a nice dry studio.
I had company from Castleacre to Gressenhall and then again along the Marriott’s Way. Perhaps the motivation was support and kindness, but more likely it was an effort to make sure that there were no short cuts or taxis. As I crossed Norwich I stopped and talked to a nightclub doorman in Timber Hill. He was very friendly once he was assured that I wasn’t trying to gain entry, and filled my water bottles for me
I started the Wherryman’s Way section at about 1.00 a.m.and stumbled and bumbled through the night to Surlingham, Rockland St Mary and on towards Chedgrave. Sometimes I ran to get the weight onto a different part of my blistered feet.
At first light I loitered on a bench in Loddon Churchyard. Exhaustion can play strange tricks on the mind. I remember thinking that the three tubes of gel that I consumed were the most delicious things I had ever eaten.
I reached Reedham Ferry at 7.00, happy in the knowledge that I could rest for an hour before the Ferry opened. Unfortunately the ferryman was in early to make some checks, saw me and made a special trip for my benefit.
The last ten miles into Great Yarmouth were slow, painful and undignified, but with some cajoling from Dawn and Sally who had volunteered to walk the last miles with me I limped to the finishing line at 11.30, completing the trip in 28 and a half hours.
What an amazing and varied county we have in Norfolk. The big skies of the flat lands of the west gradually give way to the wooded valleys between Narford and Lenwade. Even at night the Marriott’s Way was a haven of wildlife (foxes and owls) and also some wild nightlife in the form of cyclists wobbling back from the pubs of Norwich.
A long walk needs a good finish and nothing could be better than the last miles along the edge of Bredon Water. Once again the skies are vast, and when the sun breaks though the clouds, to the left all is lush and green and to the right there is the deep brown of the mudflats and the cries of the wading birds.
Of course, if you do the walk in the sensible way and take three or four days over it you will not lose any of it to the dark.